Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Saga of Superstorm Sandy Churns On

The NWS Service Assessment Team 2.0 is preparing to meet after much delay.  Finally, utility companies within the impact zone are starting to see how they're graded, and it's not good.  Yesterday's announcement that the National Hurricane Center is proposing tweaks to how hurricane warnings are looked at.  The last few days have been full of news regarding Sandy.

After much discussion, a Service Assessment team has finally been decided on.  On November 12th, the first team assembled included Mike Smith, Senior Vice President at AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions.  In the past, members of the private weather industry have been included on service assessments, but this marks the first time that someone outside of the federal government has been asked to be the co-chair of an assessment team.  The other co-chair was the Meteorologist-in-Charge at the NWS Officer in Denver, CO.  Three days later, though, Smith blogged that he received an email saying the entire assessment was terminated.  After about a week of speculation - which included expanding the assessment team to include FEMA and DHS, to it being canceled because of the inclusion of an outsider, to a reported "miscommunication among the NWS" - a letter from Representative Paul Brown from Maryland to the NOAA Administrator urged the National Weather Service to conduct a service assessment soon, saying "I am deeply concerned by the termination of the NWS Sandy Service Assessment Team...".  The Wall Street Journal and folks from the Capital Weather Gang also commented on the seemingly lackluster approach to this historic storm.  Finally, just after Thanksgiving, the National Weather Service announced that it will convene a second Service Assessment Team, but not including any one the original members, including Smith or anyone in the private weather industry.

While that's been going on, the National Hurricane Center has been talking to anyone that will listen.  In late-November, NHC Director Dr. Rick Knapp spoke to The Weather Channel (his former employer) about the NHC handling of Hurricane Sandy.  While the interview content did address Sandy and the options that this particular storm presented to the NHC, highlighting three potential possibilities the center saw they had, there are questions about the timing of the interview and the outlet.  It should be noted that the interview from The Weather Channel's end was billed as exclusive, with the NWS Public Affairs quickly coming out saying that interviews were done or scheduled with other national media outlets as well.  Adding to this was yesterday's news regarding the NHC's Chris Landsea's conversation with AccuWeather, announcing proposed changes to the way they warn and define Hurricane Warnings.

All of this occurring before the NWS Service Assessment could be completed and it's findings announced.

Finally, thousands are still without power in park of New Jersey and New York as the public figures and the public are becoming increasingly frustrated with the way this storm was handled and is still being run.  In New Jersey, the Board of Public Utilities, who oversees all utility companies in the state, gave utility companies a failing grade when it comes to communication.  The BPU points out that infrastructure organizations need to give the general public a better idea of restoration times.  In all, Sandy knocked out power to 2.7 million people in New Jersey and the largest power company in the state, PSE&G, is staying it cost up to $300 million just to restore power, plus more to mitigate against the next storm that may hit.  In New York, anger flows from hundreds of citizens that have been without power since the storm as Con Edison still plans a rate increase.  Upper management of Con Ed, as well as the Long Island Power Authority were subpoenaed as a part of a massive investigation into the utility companies response to the storm.

While the storm has passed and most people have returned to their everyday lives, there are many who cannot.  Even before this storm hit, meteorologists knew that it would be historic, but I don't know how many could have counted on this journey the weather community is on.  From sweeping changes at the National Hurricane Center to a Service Assessment Team bound by it's own governing agency; Sandy could, in a very broad sense, result in a complete revolution of the weather enterprise.